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UK bill pardoning WWI soldiers executed for desertion approved

[JURIST] New UK legislation pardoning 306 World War I soldiers who were executed [backgrounder] for various offenses, including cowardice, sleeping while on duty, striking a superior officer, disobedience and desertion, received final approval Wednesday after the Armed Forces Act [legislative materials] received royal assent [press release]. Royal assent came a day after Britain's House of Lords approved [AFP report] an amendment [JURIST report] to the Armed Forces Bill authorizing the pardons. Under the new law, a formal pardon will be placed in the court martial files of the men. Relatives of the executed soldiers have been seeking pardons since 1990 when Britain's Public Record Office [official website] declassified the records.

The families have argued that the soldiers had suffered from shell-shock [BBC backgrounder], a diagnosis not recognized at the time, and should not have been sent back into the trenches. The declassified records also show that one soldier was tried and executed on the same day he committed the offense. Critics of the measure, including former Prime Minister John Major, have argued that the pardons would effectively rewrite history [BBC backgrounder]. BBC News has more.

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